In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog. This is part 42 of a 44-part series.
I seek your blessings, O Protector, that you may place your feet
On the centre of the eight-petalled lotus at my heart,
So that I may manifest within this life
The paths of illusory body, clear light, and union.
Completion stage is the method for directly purifying samsara and becoming a Buddha. Everything else is fundamentally a preparation for completion stage. Samsara is most commonly understood as uncontrolled rebirth. Without freedom or control we die and are then thrown into another realm of samsara. The totality of the Buddhist path is learning how to gain control of the death process, so that we are able to control our next rebirth and take a rebirth outside of samsara either in a pure land, as a liberated being, or as a fully enlightened being. In generation stage, we purify the death process through the practice called the three bringings. We bring death into the path of the Truth Body, the intermediate state into the path of the Enjoyment Body, and rebirth into the path of the Emanation Body. In completion stage, we purify the death process through the nine mixings. There are the three mixings while waking, the three mixings while sleeping, and the three mixings at the time of death. The three mixings are mixing with the Truth Body, mixing with the Enjoyment Body, and mixing with the Emanation Body. By training in the three mixings while waking, we are then able to train in the three mixings while sleeping, which prepares us to be able to engage in the three mixings at the time of death. By engaging in the three bringings and the nine mixings we can gradually purify the process of uncontrolled death and become an immortal deathless being. We quite literally purify the appearance of death and rebirth so that they never arise again. From our perspective, we become a deathless being, a deity who abides eternally in the pure land. More explanation on the three bringings can be found in Essence of Vajrayana and Guide to Dakini Land, and more explanation on the nine mixings can be found in Clear Light of Bliss and Tantric Grounds and Paths.
The final object of meditation of all our completion stage practices is clear light emptiness. This is a very subtle mind of great bliss that realizes directly the emptiness of all phenomena. All our completion stage meditations, such as learning how to control our inner winds and drops, are all methods for generating the subjective mind of great bliss. We then carry this bliss with us into the clear light and we use it to meditate on emptiness. Emptiness is a very subtle object, therefore it requires a very subtle mind to realize it directly. Our very subtle mind of great bliss is our most subtle mind. It is also the most stable mind we can generate and so therefore is the most powerful possible mind with which we can meditate on emptiness. When we meditate on the emptiness of all phenomena, in particular the emptiness of our very subtle mind, with the mind of great bliss we quickly purify all the contaminated karmic imprints that are stored on our very subtle mind. When all these contaminated karmic imprints are purified, we attain enlightenment.
The practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide itself is a preliminary practice for our main practice which is Vajrayana Mahamudra. Vajrayana Mahamudra is in essence completion stage practice. All our other practices – the Lamrim, Lojong, generation stage, and everything else – are all preparatory practices for our meditation of the union of great bliss and emptiness. To find the correct object of bliss and emptiness requires all this preparation. The more qualified we can generate these preparations and the more accurate our understanding of emptiness, the more powerful our practice of purifying our contaminated karma will be.
For many years I was reluctant to begin the practice of completion stage. I simply did not feel that I was ready, and I needed to do more preparations through Lamrim, Lojong, and generation stage practice. There is of course nothing wrong with this because these are essential preparations, but we must not mistake them for our main practice. Our main practice must be understood, even from the beginning, to be training in Vajrayana Mahamudra, in particular the meditation on the union of great bliss and emptiness. If we correctly understand this meditation on the union of bliss and emptiness to be our final spiritual destination, then all the practices that we do before them will correctly function as preparations for when we are able to start engaging in completion stage practice.
In truth, completion stage practice is not complicated. Anybody can visualize channels, drops, winds, and so forth. The visualizations are not complicated. What makes them powerful, though, is not the visualizations but the purity of our bodhichitta motivation, the degree of our faith in our spiritual guide, and the accuracy of our understanding of emptiness. It is these three – our motivation, faith, and correct view of emptiness – that give our completion stage practices their power. Once we have these three foundations in place, engaging in completion stage meditation is not difficult. We just need to have patience to gradually gain familiarity to begin to perceive and experience our central channel, indestructible drop, and so forth.
Geshe-la explains in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that once we attain the fourth mental abiding on the indestructible wind and mind at our heart, we can cause all our inner winds to enter, abide, and dissolve into our central channel and be able to directly perceive the eight dissolutions culminating in the clear light. It is also not that difficult to attain the fourth mental abiding. Once we realize how doable these things our effort becomes, in Venerable Tharchin’s words, effortless. We know how it works, we see how it works, and we see how it is doable, so effort comes naturally. We are also filled with a great deal of confidence that we can indeed attain the path if we put these methods into practice.
It is said that it is possible to attain enlightenment in three years through instructions of the Ganden Oral Lineage. Many of us have been practicing for several decades and still do not feel as if we have begun our practice. Geshe-la once told Venerable Tharchin that if he had complete faith he could attain enlightenment very quickly. What we principally lack is faith. If we had faith, were able to set aside all our doubts, and really go for it, there is no doubt that we would make rapid progress along the path. Whether we attain enlightenment in three years or not is of secondary importance. What matters is that we give it the best shot we can. At some point it will be true that our enlightenment is only three years away. We do not know when that point will be reached, but it is good to live our life believing that if we really go for it, it is possible.